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tv   CBS Evening News With Katie Couric  CBS  March 15, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT

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caption colorado >> couric: tonight, nearly 150,000 people in japan are told to stay calm and stay inside as radiation leaks from a crippled nuclear plant and workers try to head off a meltdown. i'm katie couric. also tonight, for survivors of the earthquake and tsunami, a desperate search for food, water and missing loved ones. and on the u.s. west coast, fears of radiation results in a run on potassium iodide. but is there really cause for concern? captioning sponsored by cbs from cbs news world headquarters in new york, this is the "cbs evening news" with katie couric. >> couric: good evening, everyone. japan is dealing tonight with the aftermath of one catastrophe
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while trying to prevent another. we'll have much more about the earthquake and tsunami in a moment. the official death toll is nearly 3,400. but first, the nuclear crisis. radiation continues to leak from damaged nuclear reactors in fukushima, 140 miles north of tokyo. an estimated 50 workers are still trying desperately to cool them to prevent a meltdown. in the meantime, 70,000 people have been evacuated from an area within 12 miles of the dai-ichi plant and 140,000 more living within 120 miles of the facility have been told to stay inside. japan has imposed a no-fly zone over that area for commercial air traffic. the white house, meanwhile, says the u.s. is not calling on americans to leave tokyo because of radiation concerns. and u.s. officials say it's unlikely dangerous levels of radiation will reach hawaii or the u.s. mainland. we have extensive coverage of
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the disaster in japan beginning with harry smith on the nuclear crisis. >> reporter: after a day of sharp spikes, radiation levels at the earthquake stricken fukushima dai-ichi nuclear plant are said to be falling. but this morning there are reports of a new fire at the plant. people throughout japan are on edge. >> ( translated ): they say we are safe but it makes me wonder. it is really safe? >> reporter: japan's prime minister, naoto kan, tried to reassure his country but he said more radiation leaks are likely and ordered those in the danger zone to seal themselves indoors. american sean scisle says his plan is to get out while he can. >> last night we packed bags in case of an emergency and, you know, just better safe than sorry. we're probably going to be getting out of fukushima prefecture either late tonight or early tomorrow. >> reporter: the crisis has centered on four of the six
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reactors at the dai-ichi plant. since friday, hydrogen buildup in reactors one and three caused explosion which released radioactive material into the air. but even more troubling had been the problems at reactors two and four. continuing efforts to keep the nuclear material cool have failed. early tuesday, explosions ripped through reactor two, possibly damaging the inner steel containment vessel. if it fails, the fuel rods will be exposed, increasing the risk of a partial meltdown. and over at reactor four, which had been shut down since november for maintenance, spent fuel rods caught fire when cooling methods failed there as well. that released high levels of radioactivity into the air. after the fires were extinguished, radiation levels dropped, but officials are concerned the pool walls may be damaged, raising fears of the release of more radiation. for now, reactors five and six,
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which had also been shut down for maintenance, remain intact. the new fire out there this morning is in reactor four which is a place that has had a series of explosions since last friday. and as for the level of anxiety in this country, the nuclear authority here has been less than forthcoming about some of its problems in the past and that has left a lot of people here, frankly, suspicious. katie? >> couric: harry smith in tokyo. thank you very much. we have two experts on nuclear safety tonight. in washington, james acton with the carnegie endowment and joining me here in new york is cham dallas, a university of georgia professor and cbs news nuclear safety consultant. james acton, how serious do you think the situation is right now in japan? >> well, katie, it's clearly deteriorated in the last 24 hours. the explosion inside the containment reactor unit two is
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significant, and the fire in the spent fuel pool of reactor number four is significant. both of these events have created new pathways for release of radioactivity into the environment, but what i think is important to emphasize is that the possibility of a catastrophic release of radiation equivalent to chernobyl is still very low. >> couric: james, how long do officials have to get this situation under control in your view? >> very, very hard to put any kind of time estimate on it. i mean, we have effectively no experience managing this kind of accident before. i mean, you know, one of the issues is that it's clear a lot of the instrumentation, a lot of the measuring gauges and devices inside of the reactors are at the best untrustworthy and at the worst just not functioning anymore. so not even the operators themselves at the moment really understand what's going on in the cause of those reactors. >> couric: cham, you called the infusion of sea water the hail
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mary, that the japanese officials were doing. what else is in their arsenal they can call on? >> well, the arsenal's getting smaller on the japanese end, especially after they start entering sea water into the reactor. they have a few options left, but they are really diminishing, that's why they're calling on us. >> couric: james, there have been some questions about these reactors and specifically their design. what can you tell us about that? >> well, there have been some questions that have been raised for a while about the integrity of their containment vessels. but i think there's actually a bigger safety issue here. i think the question that's raised, both in japan and in the whole of the rest of the world, is whether the so-called design basis for reactors is sufficient. have we correctly predicted the size of natural disasters or man made disasters to which they might be subject? >> couric: what about the 140,000 people who have been told to stay inside and not evacuate? what are the health risks to them? >> well, right now with the numbers that we have, those numbers are not good.
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i mean, it's not good to be in that area. but being inside really does cut down the exposure significantly. it's a good policy that they're telling them. >> couric: all right. james acton and cham dallas, gentlemen, thank you both. >> thank you. >> thank you for having me here. >> couric: meanwhile, rescue and relief workers have no choice but to work outside in the elements. more members of the u.s. navy were exposed to radiation while delivering supplies today. national security correspondent david martin has that part of the story. >> reporter: what started as a humanitarian relief operation has become hazardous duty for the u.s. military. more helicopter crews delivering supplies from the carrier "reagan" off the east coast of japan and from atsugi air base south of tokyo have come back contaminated by low levels of radioactivity. they must discard their clothes, wash down with soap and water and, in some cases, take potassium iodide tablets.
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and radiation alarms went off aboard a second aircraft carrier the "george washington" at kanuse base, 175 miles south of the reactors. radiation there and atsugi were very low but enough to advise people to stay indoors. more ships are on route but they have changed course away from the east coast and will operate off the west coast in order to stay away from the radiation. but the air crews will keep flying over land and that could expose them more radiation. katie? >> couric: david martin at the pentagon tonight. thank you, david. offers of aid have been pouring into japan from around the world. 116 governments and organizations have pledged their support with more than $59 million in overall donations. but some estimates of the damage in japan are close to $200 billion. and as bill whitaker reports, help can't get there soon enough >> reporter: if this devastation is the defining image of the quake and tsunami aftermath, then this defines the japanese
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reaction. lines. people patiently waiting in line. the heart-hit area around sendai is short of just about everything, so people wait in long lines for water, for gas, for food. there's a line over there. there's a line right here. there's another line across the street. this is the new reality in sendai. this man waited 12 hours for gas. these people have waited two hours to buy a limit of ten items each from this store. but no one is complaining. "we can be patient people" she says. "everybody is in the same situation so we don't need to fight about it." the city of sendai has opened 247 emergency shelters, housing more than 70,000 displaced people. this downtown shelter serves 1,500 meals three times a day. everyone chips in. the able bodied unload boxes. the young serve the old. only the very old and very young
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are duty-free. the united states is chipping in too, under operation tomodachi, or operation friends, 440 sailors and marines are helping japan get utilities back up and running. but most of all, the japanese are caring for each other. this woman and her family have no electricity at home. they huddle together to stay warm at night. they're waiting in line for food. "even though we had the earthquake, i'm lucky" she says. "there are people who are worse off than me." people like this woman who lost her house to the tsunami and gets cold at night in the shelter. "i'm too old to be homeless" she says. and people like shoji yamata, he
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lost his house, his daughter-in- law and two grandsons, a four- year-old and three-year-old are missing. their house washed completely away. "i just hope if they died they were all together" he says. in sendai, people are waiting patiently, even those in pain. bill whitaker, cbs news, sendai, japan. >> couric: nearly five days after the earthquake and tsunami the search for survivors is becoming a race against time and a continuing battle against nature with snow now in the forecast. more than 7,500 people are listed as missing while nearly 26,000 have been rescued. today an elderly woman was found alive in the northern of ichinomaki. ben tracy spent the day traveling west from sendai and is now in niigata. ben, many people have been waiting in lines trying to find out the fate of their relatives and friends. what has that been like? >> reporter: katie, in one of the towns we went to called ichinomake we saw a long line
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outside the red cross hospital that we assumed was people seeking medical attention but, in fact, they were actually waiting in line to go inside this tent where there were names on tables and on the walls. these were names of people who had been treated at the hospital people who were still alive but then also a list of people who had been confirmed dead. so they were basically there to see the fate of their relatives. we found one woman in the line who was looking to find out what happened to her son. she raised her finger in the air telling us this was her one and only son. obviously she was very emotional because she believes he was actually swept away in his car by the tsunami. katie? >> couric: and what about the tens of thousands of people who are in shelters, ben. how are their loved ones supposed to find them? >> well, when you go into these shelters, these evacuation shelters, there are names all over the wall in the entryway. and these are the names of people actually at the shelter. the point is, if you walk in you can look at the names, you can see if a relative or loved one is there and hopefully be reunited with them at the shelter.
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katie? >> couric: there are also some very joyful reunions taking place as well. >> reporter: yes, thankfully there are a lot of reunions and one that hit close to home for us is our colleague lucy craft who was reunited with her 17- year-old son in tokyo just a couple of hours ago. he had actually been at boarding school in sendai when the earthquake and tsunami hit and it had been about two days before she could get in touch with him so she was worried. but like any 17-year-old, he very nonchalantly sent her a text message saying "mom, stop worrying, i'm fine." katie? >> couric: i'm so glad she found him because a lot of people were very, very concerned about that. ben tracy in niigata, japan tonight. ben, thank you. meanwhile, the economic fallout from this crisis continues. in the past two days, japanese stocks have lost 16% of their value and on wall street today the dow fell nearly 300 points before recovering most of that, ending with a loss of 137 points or just over 1%. oil also fell sharply, down $4
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to close at about $97 barrel. and still ahead here on the "cbs evening news," if there are heroes in japan's nuclear crisis they are the 50 workers risking their lives trying to prevent a meltdown. but up next, stores on the west coast selling out of potassium iodide. fear of radiation is real, but is the risk?
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>> couric: u.s. officials from the president on down are trying to reassure residents of hawaii, alaska, and the west coast there is little chance dangerous levels of radiation from japan will reach them. but there's still a lot of understandable concern. so we asked dr. jon lapook to fill us in on the radiation risk and the fear factor. >> reporter: when radiation began leaking from the stricken power plants, the fallout was felt more than 5,000 miles away at this pharmacy near los angeles. all sold out of potassium iodide. >> there's people that are really worried, they're going from store to store. >> reporter: the pills can prevent the thyroid from developing cancer caused by radiation. but are they really necessary here? >> i think that's extremely unlikely that there will be any risk to folks in this country. the distance is simply so large that a cloud will be so dispersed by the time it reaches
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the u.s. >> reporter: even in japan, not far from the reactors, the actual threat is relatively low say radiation experts. >> because there is an evacuation zone, very few people are going to get doses even comparable to a chest x-ray, which is a pretty low radiation dose. >> reporter: radiation can damage human cells. it's measured in something called millisieverts. a chest x-ray emits about a tenth of a millisievert. nuclear plant workers are limited to 20 millisieverts a year. 100 millisieverts in one dose can increase the risk of cancer. and 100 to 500 can cause bone mare redamage leading to infection and death. reports say radiation levels were as high as 400 millisieverts an hour at the plant today but they fell dramatically, first to 11.9, then 0.6. to put this in perspective, in chernobyl among people who became sick, the radiation dose ranged from 800 to 1.6 million millisieverts. much higher than what's being measure sod far in japan. katie? >> couric: all right.
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dr. jon lapook, jon, thank you in other news, the human toll of alzheimer's. in other news the human toll of alzheimer's. a report out today says more than five million americans now have the disease and about three times that number take care of them or patients with dementia. these caregivers, often family member, spend more than 1,100 hours a year on average helping patients who cannot help themselves. in eastern libya today, moammar qaddafi forces took more territory back from the opposition. brega and ajdabiya were the latest cities to fall. still photos show rebels and civilians fleeing the area under heavy shelling from qaddafi loyalists. the rebels hope to regroup in benghazi which they still control. and coming up next, putting their lives on the line. the 50 workers still on the job at that damaged nuclear plant. nuclear plant. [ female announcer ] sometimes you need tomorrow to finish what you started today. for the aches and sleeplessness in between, there's motrin pm.
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>> he spoke to him and his friend told him that he was not afraid to die. that that was his job. >> reporter: cham dallas led teams responding to the chernobyl disaster. this notion that he said he's not scared to be dead, it is his job, is that commonly shared? >> my experience with people in the action area of nuclear power is much like that. >> reporter: the 50 are working amid decreasing but still dangerously high levels of radiation. >> the longer they stay, the more dangerous it becomes for them. but i think it's a testament to their guts for them to say "we'll stay." and if it means we go, we go. >> reporter: if the contamination threat isn't contained in a few weeks, finding enough workers willing to face the risks could become a crucial challenge. >> how can it be expected from a management point of view to put
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people in harm's way. i would expect they'll do it with volunteers. >> reporter: keep in mind, they be volunteering to head into a place so many have just fled. jim axelrod, cbs news, new york. >> couric: and coming up next, surveying the damage on sacred ground. sacred ground. ugh my sinuses... the congestion... it's your fault. naturally blame the mucus. [ mucus ] try new advil congestion relief. it treats the real problem. reducing swelling due to nasal inflammation. new advil congestion relief.
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>> couric: as japan endures its worst disaster since world war ii, some survivors are turning to the past and finding strength in their faith. once again, here's harry smith. >> reporter: the gravestones next to a buddhist temple in sendai lie toppled and filthy. they have come to check on this cemetery because his parents remains are here. >> ( translated ): we found the base of the grave still intact and the ashes still there so we're relieved."
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>> reporter: most japanese are both shinto and buddhist. the shinto is for the here and now, buddhism is for the afterlife. >> ( translated ): this is where our souls go. this is where they rest. >> reporter: but not in peace. the tsunami almost destroyed the temple. so this temple is still standing but it was inundated with water, we can see from the water line that it had got to be about this deep inside here and everything is mud. this is a most sacred space and it was still standing. the family wanted us to know they felt fortunate to be alive and contrary to appearances, the japanese soul is very much intact. >> couric: and that's the "cbs evening news" for tonight. i'm katie couric. thank you for watching. i'll see you tomorrow. good night. captioning sponsored by cbs
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. you're watching cbs 5 eyewitness news in high definition. i don't think we have ever had something while i have worked here that people have sought after so much. >> ration or fear -- not, fear takes over. what americans are willing to pay for something that would have cost you $12 last week. if we were facing a wave of radioactive radiation what would iodine do for you? it depends. >> and the latest after-shock for japan on the road. i'm allen martin. >> and i'm dana king. we update the story the entire world is watching. the japanese nuclear plant on the verge of meltdown. a fire has reignited in one of the six reactors and another is believed to be cracked and leaking. while more than 200,000 people


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